by James Hart
"Good Morning! Name, please?"
Chuck Wegos lowered his head to pass under a wide welcome banner and replied, "Wegos, W-E-G-O-S, first name Chuck."
The gray-haired man sitting in the chair behind the banner had a beaming smile on his face but its insincerity made Chuck uncomfortable. The hallway was cold, and an odd smell lingered throughout. Like rubbing alcohol and stale fruit, Chuck thought. It sparked memories of the waiting room in a children's hospital Chuck used to go to. He remembered that the nurses there used to smile in the same artificial fashion.
"Well, it's nice to have you with us, Mr. Wegos. Could you please sign your name where it's printed on the roll sheet?" There were fourteen other names on the clipboard, but none stuck out. No one else from Chuck's office had signed up.
Just as well, Chuck thought.
"Very good, sir. The seminar will start at nine o'clock, here in this conference room."
The old man motioned toward the doors behind him. Chuck walked in and found a seat in the center of the room.
Each table was draped with a clean, white tablecloth, and pitchers of water were placed between every other seat. No one else had yet arrived, but someone had already set up a holographic projector in the front of the room, along with an assortment of pamphlets and workbooks for each seat.
There were exactly fifteen chairs, fifteen workbooks, fifteen pens and fifteen pads of paper prepared; three rows of five each. A large table in the front of the room held up the projector. It was already on, displaying single image in the air towards its future audience. "IT'S YOUR LIFE! How to boost your self-esteem and positively change your direction" was written in the air in a wide, blue font.
"Hi Chuck, how's it going? Do you have a minute?" Charlie closed the door behind him and sat down on Chuck's desk. Once settled, he started again with a lowered voice. "Chuck, some of us here are a little worried about you."
"And why's that, Charlie?"
"Well, the finance team is concerned. You seem to be falling behind the pace --"
"-- I get all of my reports completed on time."
"Well, yes, but just barely, Chuck, it's always just barely. And we've noticed you've become increasingly hard to get a hold of. Late lunches and so forth."
Chuck leaned back. "This it, Charlie? You firing me?"
"Oh no, no, not at all! Now what makes you think that? Like I said, we're just concerned."
Charlie smiled, turning his tone sympathetic. "How's everything at home? Your son's name is Michael, right? How's Michael doing?"
"Well, Mike's fine, but things aren't exactly the best at home. Denise still misses her dad, so it's been hard trying to get her through that." It wasn't really true. Denise had trouble coping every now and again, but it didn't hinder Chuck's work any. But you can't tell your boss that your job is a ridiculous waste of time if he knows already.
"Would you say it's been hard to get through the day? It seems like you're struggling a bit."
"Yes, it's been tough some days. It's just been a drain, trying to juggle everything that's going on right now."
Charlie leaned back and pretended to think. "Yeah, I can understand that... Really Chuck, I really can. I've had my own bouts with depression, and I know as well as anyone how hard it can be. There's something I'd like you to try for me, though."
"What is it?"
Charlie placed a hand on Chuck's shoulder. "Take this program sponsored by the department. It's a motivation-training seminar, and it has an excellent success rate. I know I know, this might not be your thing, but believe me, it's worth a look. In fact, most of us here have taken it at some point."
Chuck frowned. It actually wasn't a bad idea. Taking the seminar and putting on a good face afterwards might be enough to keep from getting fired. For a while, anyway.
Chuck decided it would be better if he had been simply fired. It would have put and end to his charade at work, and the seminar turned out to be nothing short of excruciating.
Faye, a red-haired woman in her mid-forties, was their "program guide" for the afternoon. It occurred to Chuck that Faye was the most helplessly absurd person he had ever encountered. She spoke with an enunciation that was forced and unnecessary. Her "jokes," if you wanted to call them that, were scripted and horrendous. And everything that came out of her mouth also came with a plastic, ear-to-ear smile. Faye wasn't a person. She was a painted, porcelain doll of a human being.
This seemed to have occurred to Chuck alone. When their eyes weren't glued to holographic images, his classmates would follow along in their workbooks with quiet obedience.
"Okay everyone, we're doing a great job, aren't we? Now let's try to find out what step number five is in our action plan! Ready, everyone? Step number five..."
Faye was walking Chuck's class through a fill-in-the-blank exercise. It was intended to outline the steps necessary to achieve a life of fulfillment and self-worth. Chuck looked down at what he had already written.
Set realistic goals.
Reward yourself for working hard.
Stay focused on your task.
Feeling a cold shiver, Chuck looked back up at the display. He saw images of people in an office, hovering over a speakerphone. Everyone in the scene looked excited, happy, and carefree. They were busy making lists, passing out papers, pointing to charts, laughing, smiling, having a grand old time. It was so hackneyed and bogus it made Chuck feel sick.
"Excuse me, Faye?" A voice boomed from the back of the room.
Faye pointed to the man who spoke. "Yes, you sir, in the back?"
"I believe the correct answer is communicate. 'Communicate with others effectively.'"
Faye smiled and started clapping. "Yes sir, very good! 'Communicate with others effectively' is step number five in our action plan!"
Chuck turned around to look at the man who answered. He gave Faye a broad smile and returned to his workbook.
What the hell, Chuck thought, nobody talks like that. He got light-headed and noticed he could now see his breath. And why was it so cold in here? Why were conference rooms so damn cold?
What a waste of time this was. No job was worth sitting through this. The entire "seminar" was a childish attempt to oversimplify one's problems and difficulties, and these saps are eating it all up. Chuck could no longer take it. Sitting in a plain, stale conference room surrounded by plain, stale people living lives just as trite as --
Chuck stood up. He became very dizzy, and very cold. He tried to right himself by holding on to the arm of his chair, but he fell to the floor, smashing through the table in front of him. Ice water and loose sheets of paper flew upwards in every direction.
"Sir? Sir? Mr. Wegos?"
Chuck opened his eyes. He was frigid, and lying on his back in a room saturated with pale, blue light. He was on a metal table, and his clothes were missing; a white robe replaced them. There were three IVs in his left arm. The one attached to his wrist was pumping in a bright, pink liquid, and it felt like ice going in. Faye was now staring down at him, shining a light into his eyes. She was wearing some kind of doctor's coat, and her ridiculous smile was gone.
Chuck looked to his left and saw the rest of his classmates on similar tables. Three rows of five, they were all there.
Faye tilted his head back towards the ceiling. "Sir? Sir? Mr. Wegos? Shit, he rezzed. Tony! We have one that rezzed early!"
Chuck tried to stand up, but Faye pushed him back down.
"Whoa, hold on, just lie back down there."
Chuck panicked. Too much was happening at once. He needed to sit up. He tried to reach for the needles in his arm, but Faye fought him and grabbed his hands.
"Easy, easy! Sir, don't fight, don't fight me! We can't stop the procedure once it's started, okay? You pull those out now and the shock could kill you."
A man in a white uniform rushed in from behind and held Chuck's arms down. He was huge, and Chuck couldn't pull himself away. Faye pulled out a hypodermic from her breast pocket.
"Hold him while I put him under."
She took the cap off with her mouth, and despite his thrashing, stuck Chuck's right arm. After a few seconds, he couldn't keep his eyes in focus. The last thing Chuck felt was the lingering feeling of cold.
"Congratulations all, you have all completed your motivation-training seminar and you have all passed with flying colors! Come on, give yourselves a big hand!" Everyone in the room clapped and smiled back at a very ecstatic Faye.
Chuck was so glad he had signed up. Halfway through the day's exercises, he had trouble remembering why he was so worked up. He now knew that his work stress and depression were all in his head. It was hard to even remember what he had felt like before the seminar.
Chuck stood up and walked towards the conference room doors, noticing the same odor as before, but now it made him feel safe and happy. Faye was greeting everyone by the door as they walked out. Chuck shook her hand, and she beamed as he made his way into the hallway.
© 2008 James Hart
Bio: James Hart lives in Washington D.C. and works as a research assistant. (This is a combination that has probably exposed him to more than one 'motivational seminar', but so far, he has managed to avoid drinking the Kool-aid™...)
E-mail: James Hart
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